We’re less than a month away from the New York Giants’ season opener against the Denver Broncos, and we still don’t know if Saquon Barkley will be ready to go Week 1.
I don’t blame the Giants for taking it slowly here. Barkley is the potential star of their offense if he’s able to fully recover from the ACL tear that he suffered Week 2 last season. The last thing New York wants is to rush their lead running back to the field too early and risk another injury.
Barkley’s importance to the Giants’ offense was clear in his first two seasons, scoring 17 touchdowns and averaging 4.8 yards per carry. With Daniel Jones still a bit of a wild card at quarterback entering his third year, New York will likely look to lean on the run game to take off some of the pressure to perform with the pass. Once Barkley does officially return, he’ll see a decent chunk of the Giants’ offensive workload.
If he’s not ready for Week 1 though, New York will have to look to their other options to occupy the backfield until Barkley is ready. So, who do they have to turn to?
The Giants signed the five-year veteran to a two-year deal in March with the intention of putting him behind Barkley on the depth chart. With the departure of last year’s surprise breakout stud Wayne Gallman, signing a veteran running back to slot into the RB2 spot made a lot of sense. Booker’s relative youth made him a better option than returning vet Alfred Morris, whom the Giants cut on Tuesday.
If Barkley remains sidelined for one or two of the Giants’ first games, what kind of production can we expect from Booker? In his sample size as a starter––albeit limited––the numbers aren’t eye-popping or impressive. In Booker’s six starts his rookie year and one start last year, he averaged 2.8 yards per carry, a significantly lower level of production compared to his career mark of 4.0.
To reiterate, the sample size is very small and he wasn’t exactly a part of an offensive juggernaut his rookie year in Denver. It’s more likely that we’d see a performance more in line with his career numbers: 4.0 yards per carry, 7.8 yards per reception. Booker likely wouldn’t be a game-changing, dynamic running back if he ends up starting more than a couple of games, but he’s absolutely a serviceable option on the ground and a solid receiving option out of the backfield.
Perhaps best known as the player to take the snap in the Super Bowl LII “Philly Special” play, Clement is currently slotted into the RB3 spot on the Giants’ depth chart after joining the team in free agency this season. In four years with the Eagles, his career numbers are very similar to those of Booker: 4.0 yards per carry, 9.2 yards per reception. Unlike Booker, Clement doesn’t have any experience as a starter and missed most of the 2019 season after an injury to his shoulder.
Like Booker, Clement’s numbers don’t paint a picture of a running back with the potential to take over a game at will. He’s also more of a serviceable backup who will be able to consistently grind out some yards when called upon—and he also provides another set of good receiving hands out of the backfield.
Reports out of training camp earlier in August stated that Clement was outperforming Booker in camp. It’s possible that the coaches will like what they see from the former Eagle and give him more chances going forward, even over the statistically similar Booker. In one preseason game so far, Clement had five carries for 32 yards compared to Booker’s three carries for 12, though Clement’s fumble in the red zone against the New York Jets may have set him back a step or two.
There’s still time for things to change before the first regular-season game in just under a month, and the Giants hope Barkley is fully ready to return by then to prevent the need to choose between Booker or Clement. If not, I could see the two platooning in the backfield, and the Giants selecting one of the two as a starter in name only while essentially splitting carries. As of now, the Giants may be leaning toward Clement in that spot after his strong camp thus far, but that may change in the coming weeks.
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